More layoffs.

A reduction in state tax collections.

More state program cuts.

And more bad news could be on the way.

What's needed to salvage Pennsylvania's sagging economy?

One such step would be the expansion of legalized casino gambling in Pennsylvania.

The House of Representatives was scheduled today to debate a measure to legalize table games at the state's slot-machine casinos. Currently only slot machines are permitted. And gamblers, seeking more diversity, and bigger stakes, must go to Atlantic City if they want to play with the high rollers. And with them goes millions in revenue each year, funds that could be used in child welfare programs, public libraries, and many other previous state-funded programs.

Legalizing casino table games is a key piece of October's state budget agreement that resolved a multibillion-dollar, recession-driven shortfall, according to an Associated Press story. However, tax collections have continued to fall short of the state's lowered revenue expectations and the House and Senate have struggled since then to agree on the details of an actual gambling bill.

Gov. Rendell has promised more cuts, to universities and other state subsidized programs by Jan. 1 if a table games bill isn't enacted by then.

And while it might appear that the administration is holding the state hostage by threatening to cut more jobs and programs, if it doesn't get its gambling bill, the fact remains that as of the beginiing of this month, the state's tax collections were lagging projections by $217 million, or 2 percent below expectations, according to the AP story.

We hope that both parties can hammer out a compromise bill that would inject more revenue into the state's coffers. Gambling may not be the ideal way many of us want to see our state programs funded, but it is an alternative that could save jobs and state programs. The money spent on gambling is going to be spent somewhere. It may as well be here, in Pennsylvania, where it will do the most good.

Bob Urban

rurban@tnonline.com [1]